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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

More Snow Tomorrow: Surviving Winter as a Foreigner in Denmark

I’m looking out the window as I write, and it’s snowing again. It’s pretty, but it’s not a novelty anymore. It’s been like this for the past couple of weeks – Danish winter weather. Nearly every day, there’s fresh snow and ice.

When I wake up on winter mornings, it’s still pitch dark, very cold, and I can hear the wind whistling outside my window. Every day I think, “Ahhhh, I don’t want to get up.” But I do.

Of course, everyone in Denmark suffers a little bit during the winter. But I feel particularly bad for people who come from warmer climates and are experiencing one of their first winters here.

In Copenhagen the other day, I saw a pretty young woman – she looked like a newlywed – wearing traditional Pakistani dress. A light chiffon tunic, soft pajama pants, little leather slippers, and then a giant parka over the top. All around her was grey, slushy snow. I got the sense that she was a new bride whose husband hadn’t really given her the full story about Denmark and Danish winter. She looked so cold and unhappy.

I also feel bad for the African migrant workers I see here. They’re often wearing cool-looking leather jackets, which they probably get when they pass through Italy, and not much else in the way of winter clothing. I sometimes see one of these dark-skinned guys fighting his way through a white cloud of windy snow. And the look on his face is not full of love for Denmark.

Of course, immigrants to Denmark adapt to the cold after a while. I think Muslim women have it best, because they often wear a headscarf every day anyway.

Danes, on the other hand, often go bare-headed all winter. You see Danish people packed in like wooly Christmas presents, scarves, gloves, coats, waterproof boots, sometimes waterproof trousers, but no hat. 

Amazing. And it’s not just teenagers. I see elderly women in fancy mink coats (fur is acceptable in Denmark, by the way) and expensive leather gloves walking through the parking lot to their Audi or Mercedes – with no hat.

That said, there’s still a lot to learn from the Danes on how to get through the cold winters.

First of all, if they can avoid them, they do.

Lots of people travel to warmer places during the winter, particularly the Danish Royal Family. When the weather is at its worst, they always seem to have an urgent ribbon to cut in the south of France, or Princess Mary’s home country, Australia.

Ordinary people also do beach vacations, but ski vacations are big, too. You’ll see people you know disappear for whole weeks in February to Switzerland or Norway. It’s still cold in those places, but at least there’s some sun reflecting off the snow.

Make a plan for the dark times

For those of us who stay in Denmark, it helps to make a plan. It’s good to choose a project for the ‘dark times’ – reading the backlist of your favorite author, learning a new software program, or watching an extensive playlist of comedy films on Netflix. 

And February is a great time to invite friends over. Just like you, they have no plans and no money. Any day you invite them, they’ll be there.

If you suffer from winter depression, which a lot of Danes do, you can buy a special white light that mimics the sun. I had one, and then I stored it away in the basement for summer and now I can’t find it.

Instead, I occasionally go to tanning centers during the winter; not because I want to have orange, leathery skin, but because they deliver a little bit of that blue light I crave and haven’t seen since September. I can really recommend it – it costs perhaps 40 kroner for 10 minutes – and I walk out of there feeling like I’ve taken a happy pill.

Anyway, you can learn to enjoy the winter in Denmark. There can be something comforting about a dark evening inside with a hot cup of tea or a glass of wine and a good book or movie.

And it’s fun to watch kids in the snow. Kids of all ethnicities, pulling their sleds to the park to take a couple of trips down the hill. Kids making snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other. It’s what kids do now in winter, and what they did a hundred years ago in winter, and probably what they will be doing a hundred years from now in winter. It’s a classic.

Kay Xander Mellish books

Buy Kay’s books about Denmark on Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2021

Read also:
Danish beaches in winter: White light and bitter wind
Danes and Spring: Hot wheat buns and highly-educated drunks
Autumn in Denmark: The Slow Fading of the Light
Summer vacation in Denmark: The Agony and the Ecstasy
Danish summer: Why you should run outside now
Summerhouse or doll house: What to expect if you’re invited to a Danish summer home

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